The second prototype, a larger pod with an interior dubbed XP-2, finally completed a manned test in November 2020 with two passengers on board in a real vacuum environment. The gondola traveled for approximately 17 seconds to a top speed of 107 mph and stopped. At this stage of the company’s development, full-size concept sketches were released, featuring pods that could accommodate up to 28 passengers. Virgin was already running feasibility studies worldwide.
But progress beyond the initial feasibility study has been continually hampered by the lack of real infrastructure and hard data. The company’s test loop was never built longer than its original 1,620ft span, and throughput issues still plagued the company due to the time-consuming vacuum airlocks that would be required for passenger services. . When cities tried to go beyond route planning or preliminary budget estimates, they found themselves stymied by a lack of data to work with for more arduous impact studies.
For example, the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area has been conducting high-speed transit studies for nearly three years to connect north-central Texas to passenger transportation, and hyperloop was one of the methods explored. In a conversation The reader had with the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ senior transportation planner, Brendan Wheeler, he explained that the first step in any infrastructure project such as the hyperloop or high-speed rail is an environmental impact study, which in the case of Texas is an ongoing investigation. The area makes perfect sense for a hyperloop, however, with corridors already established along Interstate 30 for high-speed public transit, and relatively flat, easy-to-level terrain dominating the area.
On the Virgin website, the Laredo-Dallas corridor was announced as one of six locations in America that the company hoped to build a hyperloop, claiming that a hyperloop could save travelers 14 million transit hours per year. But on Feb. 17, 2022, the council was forced to drop the hyperloop as a transit option before the assessment window was even over. Wheeler explained that the technology is still in its infancy that trying to perform an environmental survey just isn’t feasible yet. He went on to say that while the technology is still of interest to them, for the transit of passengers within the time frames desired by the state, it is too underdeveloped to advance further, and the proven high-speed rail must be the de facto choice. .
Because Virgin was the only company to ever have performed human tests with his hyperloop, he has left metropolitan areas across the United States reeling after spending years on feasibility studies for a technology whose implementation is now even further away. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, for example, spent two years on a Feasibility study assisted by Virgin for a hyperloop linking Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh. Now, with the company abandoning its passenger transport plans, the same goes for the MORPCinstead deciding to focus on freight transport.
And despite the appetite for high-speed passenger transport, no one seems ready to fill the void left by Virgin. Musk’s Boring Company has its own hyperloop in the works and promises that at some point the concept for its original white paper will come up. Right now, however, the only people mover he has built is an atmospheric pressure tunnel system with Teslas running through it as transport pods in Las Vegas. The system is much slower than the original concept and has been plagued with problemsdespite costs taxpayers $50 million.
HyperloopTT, another startup from the 2010s, currently has a test center in France, but human testing has not yet been undertaken. Even after the Northeast Ohio Regional Coordinating Agency collaborated with the company on a $1.3 million feasibility studyit’s still unclear how quickly HyperloopTT intends to complete human testing.
Virgin still has a few freight projects in the works, and the company is ostensibly targeting the mid-decade for its UAE-based freight line. The company did not respond to The reader survey for comment in time for publication, and it has not released any schedule changes following the layoffs. But regardless of its future plans, the future of high-speed public transit in America has become much murkier.
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